Two female condors had chicks without the need for a male – Environment – Life

Scientists from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance reported this month the first confirmed hatching of two chicks of California condor from unfertilized eggs.

The discovery of parthenogenesis, or reproduction asexual, it occurred for the first time in this species classified as critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List. The confirmation of the fact was given by molecular genetic tests.

The fact, which was recorded in Journal of Heredity, the official journal of the American Genetic Association, could have effects on the conservation of the species.

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The discovery

During a routine analysis of biological samples from the two condors captive-living Californians from the breeding program managed by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the scientists confirmed that each condor chick was genetically related to the respective female condor (mother) that laid the egg of the who was born.

However, in a surprising twist they discovered that neither of the two birds was genetically related to a male, meaning that both chicks were biologically fatherless, and represented the first two cases of asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, to be confirmed in the species.

Additionally, the two females were continuously housed with fertile male partners. Thus, this discovery of parthenogenesis is not only the first to be documented in condors, it is also the first to be discovered using molecular genetic testing, and the first in any avian species in which the female had access to a partner.

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“This is a really amazing discovery,” said Oliver Ryder, director of conservation genetics at the San Diego Zoo and a co-author of the study.

“We weren’t exactly looking tests for parthenogenesis, it just hit us in the face. We only confirm it thanks to the normal genetic studies that we do to prove the relationship. Our results showed that both eggs had the expected ZZ male sex chromosomes, but all markers were only inherited from their mothers, which verifies our findings, “added the scientist.

What is parthenogenesis about

Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which an embryo not fertilized by sperm continues to develop, containing only genetic material from the mother. The resulting offspring are called Partenotas.

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Although this phenomenon is well known to biologists, it is relatively rare in birds, and is normally seen in females who do not have access to males.

The California condor parthenotes were produced by two different prey, each of which was continuously housed with a fertile male. Both females had also produced numerous young with their mates: one had 11 chicks, while the other was mated with a male for more than 20 years and had 23 chicks. This last pair reproduced two more times after parthenogenesis.

“We believe that our findings represent the first case of facultative avian parthenogenesis in a species of wild bird, where a male and female are housed together, “said Cynthia Steiner, associate director of the division of conservation research at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and a co-author of the study.

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“Still, unlike other examples of avian parthenogenesis, these two events are not explained by the absence of a suitable male,” he added.

Historically, the study of parthenogenesis in birds depended on careful observation that made it difficult to confirm, and cases were mainly limited to domestic birds. For example, studies done in 1965 and 1968 identified parthenogenetic development in turkeys, and in 1924 and 2008, scientists observed the same in finches and house pigeons, although the eggs did not reach the hatching stage in the latter cases.

Today, researchers have been able to confirm this new finding at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance thanks to extensive data collected from the successful California Condor Recovery Program.

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For more than 30 years, conservationists have conducted extensive genetic and genomic research, using samples of blood, eggshell membranes, tissues, and feathers to collect hereditary data from individual 911 condors.

They were able to cross the historical genetic records before confirming the outcome of this distinctive case of parthenogenesis. The San Diego Zoo conservation team believes that although these results represent only two documented cases in the condor population, the discovery could have important demographic implications.

Although one of the chicks died in 2003 at the age of 2 and the other in 2017 at 8, the team plans to continue future genotyping efforts in hopes of identifying other cases of parthenogenesis. “These findings now raise questions about whether this could occur undetected in other species,” Ryder said.

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With information from the San Diego Zoo

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